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Movies With the Best Ensemble Casts

February 10, 2009

Sometimes a single actor makes a film, and sometimes too many egos don’t fit on the same screen, but when you find a group of talented actors who manage to make it look like they’re having the time of their lives, then the audience wants to be a part of the magic. Chemistry can’t be faked. Whether He’s Just Not That Into You,  starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Jennifer Connelly, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Connolly, Ginnifer Goodwin, Bradley Cooper, and Scarlett Johansson will be one of those remarkable collaborations remains to be seen. In the meantime, here’s a little taste of some of the best ensemble casts to appear in your local movie theater:


STAGE DOOR (1937)  With a cast that includes Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, a pre-Lucy Lucille Ball, and Eve Arden, this silver screen classic about a group of aspiring actresses living together in a boarding house shines. Balancing between comedy and drama with a light, quick-witted touch, the finished film may not resemble the original stage play, but the emotion of putting it all on the line is there, and everyone, including supporting cast, carries her own weight.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her role as the Swedish maid, but each of the thirteen murder suspects makes his or her mark in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery. Albert Finney leads the investigation as the mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot, and it’s his job to figure out whether Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Jaqueline Bisset, or Michael York killed Richard Widmark. Did we mention the entire movie takes place on a very narrow train?

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) When talking about great ensembles, who could forget Monty Python? The British comedy troupe may still be considered a cult hit in the States, but you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Holy Grail. John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and Graham Chapman slay as knights of the Round Table battling Tim the Enchanter, killer rabbits, the French, and Knights Who Say Ni in order to find that silly cup. There’s coconuts and cannibalism, and in the end everyone gets arrested, which just goes to show that humor doesn’t have to make sense to be funny.

CLUE (1985) A few months after Christopher Lloyd went back to the future for the first time, he joined Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren, and Tim Curry at a mysterious dinner party to solve the murder of a blackmailer (as well as the cook, the maid, a cop, a motorist, and a singing telegram girl.) A movie based off a board game shouldn’t work so well, but the stellar cast manages to bring plastic pawns and miniature weaponry to life in this hysterical whodunnit.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1993) With a hey, nonny, nonny, Kenneth Branagh directs Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Robert Sean Leonard, and Michael Keaton in one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies. You may not understand every word they say, but there’s intrigue, and romance, and for whatever reason a lot of nudity in the opening credit sequence. It takes a cast with real chemistry to pull off the Bard’s work – and it’s not as long as Hamlet.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1994) Who is Keyser Soze? Thanks to powerful performances from Gabriel Byrne, Benecio Del Toro, Kevin Pollack, and even Stephen Baldwin in this mystery thriller that begins with an exploding boat and four dead criminals, you aren’t quite sure of the answer until the very end. Kevin Spacey owes his Academy Award to the simple concept of a movie poster featuring five guys in a lineup. As they say in Casablanca, “Round up the usual suspects!”

PLAYING BY HEART (1998) The little movie with the huge cast. Almost no one’s heard of this love-in-L.A. story starring Gillian Anderson, Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Ellen Burstyn, Dennis Quaid, Ryan Phillippe, and Angelina Jolie when she was still married to Jonny Lee Miller. Told as an interwoven series of vignettes, the film illustrates different stages of love in the City of Angels. Plus, Jon Stewart’s actually good in it.

OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) There’s nothing better than a good heist movie. Well, maybe a good heist movie with a great cast. With so many larger-than-life characters and big name actors, this movie could have easily turned into an ego-fest. Instead, it plays like they had a great time making it, and achieve a remarkable balance among the characters, which makes it even more enjoyable for the audience. We’ll just ignore the fact that they couldn’t duplicate their success.

LORD OF THE RINGS (2001) Say what you will about Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the trilogy, the cast is dynamic. From the hobbits, to the elves, to the humans and the dwarves, the actors really embody the world of Middle Earth, and make it easy for us to follow along on the quest. When the original Fellowship members are separated, you feel their pain, and when they’re reunited, you’re as thrilled as you’d be if they were real people.

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) There are almost too many big-name actors to list in this movie, including a couple of Oscar winners. It’s actually the newcomers, like Thomas Sangster as the love-sick stepson of Liam Neeson, who leave lasting impressions, holding their own against such large personalities. While the movie might not have won awards of its own, its genuine spirit and multiple messages about love make it a wonderful Christmas movie. Love is messy, and comes in many forms.

-written for Starpulse

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 11, 2009 8:49 am

    YES on Clue. Amazing movie.

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